'This Week' Transcript: Chris Christie and Craig Fugate

The latest on Hurricane Irene's impact on the Northeast.

ByABC News
August 28, 2011, 12:44 PM

WASHINGTON, Aug. 28, 2011— -- TAPPER: As we've been telling you, New Jersey is getting hit hard by the storm right now. New Jersey's governor, Chris Christie, is monitoring the situation from the Regional Operations Intelligence Center in Ewing, New Jersey. He joins us right now. Governor Christie, thanks for coming onto the show.

CHRISTIE: Thanks for having me, Jake.

TAPPER: So, Governor, the hurricane made landfall in New Jersey shortly before 6:00 this morning. Your state's just beginning to weather the storm. What are the early reports telling you?

CHRISTIE: Early reports are very difficult, Jake. We have over half-a-million people that are now without power. We have 15,000 people in 45 shelters across the state; 250 roads are closed; and we are going to look at a record flooding situation here, both at the shore and inland. And so my message to the people of New Jersey is, the eye of the storm is still over the state. We are far from out of the woods on the storm itself. And I urge people to stay inside their homes. The one report we have this morning of a woman who's missing is someone who went out into their car, drove, got into the water, got out of her car, and was swept away in the water and is still missing. So, please, stay in your homes until the storm has completely left New Jersey. Then we'll be able to get through this together in the aftermath, but I need people to stay at home.

TAPPER: What is your biggest concern right now? What kept you last night?

CHRISTIE: Flooding, Jake, because we had the wettest August on record in parts of New Jersey before this storm. Already, we've had six to eight inches of rain dumped on south Jersey, and the rain is continuing throughout the state. And so what I'm really worried about is flooding at this point and having to evacuate even more people than the 15,000 we've already had to evacuate and shelter. So in the short term, in the next couple of days, my big concern is the inland flooding and the shore flooding and how we're going to deal with folks who maybe have to be evacuated from their homes and need to be sheltered.

TAPPER: Is there anything that the state of New Jersey needs from the federal government that you're not getting?

CHRISTIE: Not at this point, Jake. We have FEMA representatives here at the -- at the Regional Operations and Intelligence Center, been working with us. I'm going to be calling Secretary Napolitano in an hour or two to make a further request of additional needs. But so far, FEMA has been very responsive. I spoke to Secretary Napolitano in the last 24 hours. She's offered to do whatever she needs to do to help us out here in New Jersey. She knows how hard we're going to be hit. So right now, the cooperation between New Jersey and FEMA has been great, and I'm going to be calling Secretary Napolitano shortly to ask for some more help.

TAPPER: I know you were very concerned about the -- at the time, it was 600 seniors in these Atlantic City high rises who were not leaving. What can you tell us about efforts to protect them?

CHRISTIE: Well, our last-ditch efforts that I referenced yesterday afternoon got another 100 or so to leave and to evacuate. So now we're dealing with about 500 seniors who refuse to evacuate. And as soon as it's safe to travel there, I know county OEM, Office of Emergency Management, Atlantic County is already checking on these folks to make sure they're OK. They lost power in a number of the buildings as early as 10 o'clock last night. So the county officials in Atlantic County are going to check on those folks. And as soon as we have some reports, we'll be able to share them with the public.

TAPPER: Why do people not leave their homes at times like this?

CHRISTIE: You know, I think it's a combination of things. You know, Jake, New Jerseyans are especially tough, kind of cynical, hard-edged folks, and they think the "cry wolf" syndrome, you know, it's all over TV, but it's never as bad as they're telling you it will be, that's one of the reasons. Another reason is that people are very scared, they want to protect their property. And thirdly, especially with the elderly, you know, we had one 92-year-old woman say to us yesterday, "I'm 92 years old. If I die, this is where I want to die." And so I think it's a combination of all those things that make people not heed the warnings. But the good news is that we evaluated over a million people from the Jersey shore in 24 hours without incident. And if those people had stayed at the Jersey shore, I think we'd be talking about significant loss of life. And now, hopefully, we're not going to be talking about that.

TAPPER: All right. Governor Chris Christie, thanks for joining us. Stay safe.

CHRISTIE: Jake, thank you very much for having me.

TAPPER: Joining us now, FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate. He's monitoring the storm from FEMA headquarters in Washington, D.C. Administrator Fugate, thanks for joining us.

FUGATE: Good morning.

TAPPER: So what is your biggest concern right now? What is the worst-case scenario that you are worried about?

FUGATE: Still watching to see if we get a lot of flooding up in New York and Manhattan. And then the other thing I think we're seeing a lot of us is, as you know, is power outages across an area from the Carolinas all the way up, now moving into the New England states.

TAPPER: And how do you plan on dealing with a worst-case scenario when it comes to flooding in New York?

FUGATE: Well, I think the mayor's team did that. You know, local officials and Mayor Bloomberg ordered those evacuations. Like we've told people, you cannot prevent the damages from these storms when they're -- you know, come in, but we can minimize risks of loss of life and safety. And then as soon as that happens and, you know, that water moves back out, then we'll start working with the states and the local officials about what kind of damages and what kind of repairs need to take place.

TAPPER: What's your advice for people in the path of the storm right now? And what's your advice for the people who have already borne the brunt of the storm?

FUGATE: Pretty much the same thing, is stay inside. Particularly during the storm, you don't want to be outside. Around high-rises, we're a little concerned. We don't have reports of this, but, you know, we may have an occasional window or some debris blow off, and you don't want to be outside and have something like that happen.

But after the storm's moved through, a lot of people want to get out and start driving around and see what's going on. Unless it's really urgent, we ask people to stay home, stay off the roads. Let the power companies and the emergency workers do their job. You know, it'll help us get power back on a lot faster if they're not having to fight traffic with people sightseeing.

TAPPER: You've mobilized six urban search-and-rescue teams. Have you deployed any of them yet?

FUGATE: They're all in staging areas, but I'll give you some examples of what has happened. Down in North Carolina -- and these are not our federal teams -- these are state and local teams -- North Carolina is already reporting that, as of early this morning, they'd already completed 67 swift-water rescues where they've actually had to go out in boats and get people that had been trapped or cut off by the storm. So our teams were in position. We don't have any requests yet, but we are still assessing this morning what kind of impacts we're having.

TAPPER: You tweeted from your Craig at FEMA Twitter account that, quote, "The category of the storm does not tell the whole story. Some of our nation's worst flooding came from tropical storms." Explain what you mean by that and why you're delivering that message.

FUGATE: Well, you know, we talk so much about category of storm, which really refers to the wind speeds of the storm. And people tend to think, well, if it's not a Category 4 or 5, we're not going to have a lot of impacts. The category of the storm really doesn't have much to do with rain. Rain has to do more with how fast the storm's moving and how big it is. Very big storm like Irene, we're getting a lot of reports of heavy rain. We've already had flash-flooding. And, again, you know, you tend to look at that category of storm. It doesn't tell you about all the hazards, rain being one.

The other thing is, we've had reports of isolated tornadoes, still have tornado watches in the path of this storm, and so you still have that risk of the isolated tornadoes that are going to occur very quick. Fortunately, they're small. They don't last a long time. But where they do hit, they can do some damage. And so those are things that aren't tied to the wind speed. So the category doesn't tell us everything, and that's why we wanted people to understand that there were other hazards that we were dealing with.

TAPPER: Lastly, sir, you were director of Florida Division of Emergency Management from 2001 through 2009, when you got the current job. What lessons did you learn during that experience, especially during Hurricane Katrina, about the federal response, that you're looking to avoid those mistakes?

FUGATE: Well, I think the big one -- and this is one Congress recognized and passed the Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act -- was that we shouldn't have to wait until a state is overwhelmed to begin getting ready, that we should be able to go in before the governor's made a request, have supplies ready, have our teams in the state, and work as one team, not waiting for damages to occur and that formal request to come.

And so we've been working with the teams. President Obama has declared emergencies in many of the states, as the governors have requested, as they prepared for the storm. So we've learned to really work as one team, not as separate levels of government, and to put everything together early before the storm hits.

TAPPER: All right. Administrator Craig Fugate, thanks so much for joining us.

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